In last week’s column, we mentioned how a change in quarterback or a new addition to the team can often provide a short-term spike in performance.
Tennessee made the switch from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill, and the Titans (somehow) pulled off a win and cover against the LA Chargers. Cornerback Marcus Peters returned an interception for a touchdown in his first game with Baltimore in the Ravens’ win over Seattle. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey forced a fumble in his first game with Los Angeles as the Rams crushed the Falcons.
But as Sam Darnold and the Jets can attest to, that boost in energy and performance doesn’t last very long. A week after beating the Cowboys in his return from mono, Darnold threw four interceptions as the Jets got shutout on Monday Night Football.
Tannehill looked like a solid upgrade over Mariota, going 23-of-29 for 312 yards and two touchdowns. But can he maintain that kind of performance over a larger sample size? In six seasons with Miami, Tannehill’s average passer rating was in the upper-80s. He earned a 120.1 passer rating in Sunday’s game against the Chargers.
Keep looking for opportunities where a team will benefit from that short-term bump in energy. It feels like a matter of time before Cincinnati decides to make a move from Andy Dalton to Ryan Finley. The Bears need a shot-in-the-arm from somewhere, whether it’s a trade or a switch back to Chase Daniel. Perhaps the Broncos give an opportunity to Drew Lock later in the season. Look to back those kinds of teams after a change is made, then get out of the way in the subsequent weeks because regression to the mean is likely coming after that.
Playing the money line on moderately-priced road underdogs has been incredibly profitable this season. According to The Gold Sheet, road underdogs with a spread between 3.5 and 6.5 are 21-7 against the spread this season, with several of those winning outright. Two weeks ago, there were four games within that point spread range and the underdog won three of them outright. Last week, Arizona closed +3.5 at most shops and beat the Giants. New Orleans beat the Bears as a 5-point underdog. Baltimore wasn’t available at +3.5 for very long, but nevertheless, beat the Seahawks in Seattle. The only home team to win in this role was Green Bay (-5) over Oakland.
There are several games that meet the criteria this week: Chicago -4.5 vs. LA Chargers; Jacksonville -6 vs. NY Jets; Houston -6.5 vs. Oakland; San Francisco -5.5 vs. Carolina; and Indianapolis -6 vs. Denver. If you’re looking to play the underdogs, be sure to budget a little for the money line.
Browns at Patriots -13: The Patriots’ defense is playing at an unbelievable level right now. They forced six turnovers against the Jets, and you could make a compelling case for several guys in that unit to be considered for Defensive MVP. But are we 100-percent sure that everything is okay with the Patriots’ offense? New England averaged 4.1 yards per play and 2.2 yards per carry against the Jets. They are 21st in the league in yards per play, 15th in yards per pass attempt, and 30th in yards per carry.
Injuries to Rex Burkhead and Josh Gordon can be blamed for some struggles, as well as the failed Antonio Brown experiment. But those offensive numbers are largely being covered up by the fact that New England is 7-0 and already has the No. 1 seed in the AFC within their grasp.
Player-for-player, Cleveland matches up fairly well with the Patriots.
The biggest difference between these two teams comes from the guys wearing the headsets. Freddie Kitchens had a week off to prepare for this game, and he’s getting the Patriots with short rest. If the Browns can’t stay within two touchdowns in this spot, then you might as well just begin your coaching search next week. The Browns are 6-3 against the spread in their last nine games as an underdog, and 5-2 against the spread in their last seven road games.